A Change of Heart
Young LAS entrepreneur creates innovative heart-health system.
Muhammed Fazeel woke to hear his mother screaming from the other end of the house. Throwing aside the covers, he sprinted to his parents’ room, where he found his father unconscious on the floor. Seized by panic, Fazeel remembers calming his mother while his sister phoned for emergency services. This moment became a turning point in the life of Fazeel, who had just graduated from high school and was living in Dubai when the emergency occurred in 2008.
Fortunately, his father survived, for it turned out that he had suffered a minor internal bleed, not cardiac arrest. But the incident inspired Fazeel to find a way to reduce the risk of cardiac emergencies. That is why this young entrepreneur, a 2012 LAS graduate, has founded Benecure—a company developing an innovative monitoring system to help people live a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Benecure guides users in making healthier lifestyle choices, he says. People use smart devices that gather data on various factors, including activity level, calorie intake, and blood pressure. The system also sets simple goals, and users sometimes receive rewards for meeting these goals; the incentives could be anything from a free healthy meal delivered to the house, to a free session at a nearby gym.
As an example of a typical routine, he says people would get up in the morning and step on a smart scale that automatically sends their weight to the Benecure system through a Wi-Fi connection. Then, while they wait for coffee to brew, they could take a few minutes to use a blood pressure monitor that connects to their smart phone, once again sending the readings to the Benecure system. Finally, they head out the door with an activity tracker in their pocket, which monitors how much they walk, run, and hike up stairs throughout the day. All information would be tracked automatically, except for food, which would be entered into the system manually.
Fazeel, Indian by nationality but raised in Dubai, discovered his entrepreneurial talent early, honing his salesman skills in high school by selling deluxe fountain pens. As he approached college, he debated between medical school in England or India, and engineering in the United States.
“I wanted to make an impact on a large set of people, and I thought I could do that through engineering,” he says. So Fazeel came to the U.S. and majored in biomedical engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. His entrepreneurial instincts remained strong, so Fazeel and a fellow student began thinking of ways they could improve the interactions between students and their professor during class.
Most students have a laptop, tablet, or smart phone in class, and he says, “We wondered if we could use that processing power. We wanted to help students communicate with the teacher during class, instead of watching South Park episodes on their laptop.”
The result was his first business venture—Tabule.
Tabule allows students to use their devices to ask questions of the instructor during class, rather than waiting for the professor to solicit questions at the end of the period. They simply type their questions—less intimidating than raising a hand—and the teacher sees the queries pop up on the computer screen.
“The system increased engagement in class by four or five times,” Fazeel says. They tested the system in seven classes at IIT and eight classes at the University of Illinois because by this time Fazeel had transferred to Illinois, where his major became integrative biology.
Tabule still exists, but Fazeel left the business so he could concentrate on his new venture: Benecure. Initially, Benecure focused on an alert system that could automatically detect a cardiac emergency. However, he realized it would be even better to keep people from going to the emergency room in the first place. So he began working on a system that would help people make lifestyle changes that protect their heart—a healthy change of heart.
Even while he was an undergraduate, Fazeel garnered significant attention for his innovations. In 2011, for instance, he was named one of the top 50 technology students in Illinois, and in 2012 he was one of five finalists for the prestigious Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize—the only undergraduate honored. Meanwhile, other members of the Benecure team have received accolades such as the Motorola Fellowship Award and the Aileen S. Andrew Foundation Fellowship Award.
Their system is tentatively called Project Honey because it is a high-tech way of sweet-talking people into taking simple steps to improve their health—plus, honey was once touted for its medicinal benefits. He says the system is aimed at anyone seeking to keep their heart healthy, but it will be especially valuable for those suffering from hypertension. According to Fazeel, about 70 percent of people who suffer from their first heart attack or stroke have hypertension.
Fazeel stresses that the system does not make any claims to reduce blood pressure, and it does not tell patients to make any changes to their medication. But if health numbers improve, people who use the system can consult with their physician to find out if they should make any changes to medication.
“We’re trying to tell people we understand that they have to make significant changes to their lifestyle, and that it’s not easy,” he says. “So our system breaks it down into smaller goals they can achieve.”
To help users meet the recommended goals tailored specifically for them, the system will also supply ideas on healthy lifestyle choices—information based on research from the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control.
As Fazeel explains, “The word ‘benecure’ means ‘to cure with knowledge.’ And that’s the idea.”
By Doug Peterson